Onion and Sage Focaccia – Profile – Nancy Silverton

Whole Wheat Sage and Onion Focaccia

Whole Wheat Onion and Sage Focaccia

This is week 23 of profiling the “50 Women Game Changers” highlighted in Gourmet Live Blog. Mary at One Perfect Bite, and a group of women food bloggers dedicate this week to Nancy Silverton.

It’s possible you may have eaten Nancy Silverton’s bread even though you may not know who she is. She  was the co-founder and head baker at La Brea Bakery, the wildly popular bakery that sold for $55 millon dollars to firm that has expanded to sell the breads to supermarkets. I now can pick up a loaf of La Brea bread up at my local supermarket. What an improvement!

Nancy trained at the London, Le Cordon Bleu; she was head chef at Wolfgang Puck’s superstar restaurant, Spago; and she also co-founded Campanile with her ex-husband, Mark Peel. She now co-owns Osteria Mozza  and Pizzeria Mozza, with Mario Batali and Joe Basianich (son of Lidia Bastianich, host on PBS’s cooking show “Lidia Cooks). The opening of her new food establishments, Short Order and Short Cake, which she was to co-own with Amy Pressman, a friend from her days at Spago, has been delayed because Amy lost in a bout with cancer on September 30th, 2011.

Incredibly, Nancy still finds time to write. Her most recent book is The Mozza Cookbook, recipes from the Pizzeria Mozza. A couple of her popular books of hers are Nancy Silverton’s Breads from the La Brea Bakery: Recipes for the Connoisseur, Good to the Grain: Baking with Whole-Grain Flours.

Anyone who know me knows that I love to bake bread and eat it. I had chosen a vegetable dish for this week but when I came across her focaccia recipe and mouth started watering, I made a quick change of plans. The following is a modified version of her Onion and Sage Focaccia (courtesy LA Times). I made a whole wheat dough and I did not use rye flour, as Nancy did; (I hate buying an ingredient that I rarely use when I know it will go to waste). Looking at this recipe you might think that it seems complicated, but it is actually very easy. You’ll get a clear understanding if you watch this LA Times video of Nancy making the Focaccia. 

Please read the recipe before making it. The focaccia is made in 2 parts. In part one you make the sponge and the dough, and this takes about 17 to 24 hours and involves letting the dough rise three times. In part two you will put the ingredients on the pies and bake them. Believe me it’s worth the effort! And this focaccia is much healthier compared to pizza because it has only one-quarter the amount of the cheese.


Total Time:  17-24 hours

Yield: 2 10-inch pans

Servings: 16 servings

PART ONE: Make the sponge and dough

Ingredients For the Sponge (Part 1):

1/8 teaspoon cake yeast, or 1/16 teaspoon dry active yeast (not quick-rise)

Scant 1/2 cup water (3.71 ounces)

1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons bread flour (3.04 ounces)

Procedure for the sponge:

1)  In a small mixing bowl, sprinkle the yeast into the water and then wait a minute or two for the yeast to soften, and then stir in the flour.

2)  Tightly cover the bowl with plastic, over and around the bowl, and then place a plate over the bowl to help keep the seal. Set the bow aside at room temperature (68-70°) for a minimum of 12 hours, and up to 24 hours, until the sponge is bubbly and thick. It should be thick and pasty.

Ingredients for the dough:

1-1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons (11.04 ounces) water

1/2 cup olive oil, to be divided between the 2 pans

1 scant tablespoon  olive oil, for the dough

The Focaccia sponge

2 packed tablespoons plus ¼ packed teaspoon (.39 ounce) fresh cake yeast or 1¾ teaspoons (.195 ounce) active dry yeast

1-1/2 cups (8 ounces) bread flour, more if needed

1-1/2 cups whole wheat flour (8 ounces)

1 tablespoon (.39 ounce) kosher salt

Procedure for the dough:

1)  About 3-1/2 hours before you want to bake the focaccia, put the water, olive oil, and the focaccia sponge in the bowl of a stand mixer. Put the dough hook on the mixer, and turn the mixer on low.  Add the yeast, the whole wheat flour, and the bread flour. Mix about 2 minutes.

2)  With the mixer running, slowly add the salt, and increase the speed to medium. Mix until the dough starts to clean the work bowl as it pulls away from the sides and starts to make a slapping sound. If after 6-8 minutes it does not pull away, you may need to add a bit more flour.

Dough - Second Rise

Dough – First Rise

3)  Get a large bowl out and lightly grease it with olive oil, or use the same bowl and oil it. The dough will double in size so make sure the bowl will hold the full-size dough. Place the dough in the bowl, cover it with plastic, and get another long piece of plastic to tie around the edge of the bowl to keep the air out. Allow the dough to rise until doubled, about 1-1/2 hours at room temperature. This is the first rise.


Dough - First Fold

Dough – First Fold


4) After the dough has doubled in size, turn it out onto a floured countertop. Lightly stretch it open and then take each end and fold them they meet in the middle. Then, grab on to the sides of the dough and gently pull and fold them over so they meet in the middle. Round the edges of the dough and place it back in the bowl, folded side down. Cover again with plastic and tie another piece around the bowl. Allow it to rise another 50 minutes. This is the second rise; (the sponge is not counted as one of the rises).


Divide the Dough - Lightly Shape

Divide the Dough – Lightly Shape


5)  Pour ¼ cup olive oil into each of the cake pans and spread the oil to coat the bottom of the pans evenly. Lightly flour the countertop and carefully turn out the dough onto the counter, being careful not to deflate it. Divide the dough into equal halves, lightly mold them into round disks and place one in each pan. Brush the tops with olive oil and cover with plastic. Let them rest 30 minutes.




PART TWO: to assemble

Ingredients to be divided for 2 10-inch focaccias:

4 ounces low-moisture mozzarella cheese cut into ½ inch cubes.

1 large cubed Spanish onion, halved lengthwise and cut into 1-inch wedges

olive oil for brushing

1/2 cup loosely packed, and roughly chopped sage leaves (about 30 chopped leaves)

Scant ½ teaspoon large flake sea salt

Arrange the ingredients by pressing down and toward the edge

Arrange the Ingredients


To Assemble:

1)  Pre-heat the oven to 450•. Remove the plastic and nudge the dough into the corners of the pan in about 5 places. Don’t worry if it doesn’t reach.

2)  Push the mozzarella into the dough, down and toward the edge of the pan. Arrange the pieces of cheese evenly over the entire bottom pressing them down deep.

3)  Keep the onions in chunks and arrange them in the dough with the cheese, pressing them down and slightly outward. Now, the dough should touch the edge of the pan.

4)  Brush the top of the focaccia with olive oil, sprinkle with the sea salt, and bake it on the center rake of the oven for 30 to 40 minutes until it is crisp and golden brown.

5)  Move the pan to the bottom rack of the oven and bake 5 more minutes to make sure the bottom crust of the focaccia is nice and crispy. Remove the focaccia from the pan being careful not to burn yourself from oil remaining at the bottom of the pan. Set them on a cookie rack.

*After notes  – This pie was the most scrumptious baked item I’ve eaten in awhile. Next time I make it I would cutting back just a bit on the salt. I guarantee you will enjoy this if you try it!

*Tip – Let’s say that you want it ready for a Saturday evening meal. You would start by making the sponge Friday night around 9:30 p.m.  The next day (Saturday), around 12:30 in the afternoon you would mix the dough according to the outlined procedure in part 1.

Check out what delicicous recipes these other bloggers have come up with:

Val – More Than Burnt Toast, Joanne – Eats Well With Others, Taryn – Have Kitchen Will Feed, Susan – The Spice Garden, Claudia – A Seasonal Cook in Turkey, Heather – girlichef, Miranda – Mangoes and Chutney, Jeanette – Healthy Living, April – Abby Sweet , Katie –Making  Michael Pollan Proud, Mary – One Perfect Bite, Kathleen –Bake Away with Me Viola – The Life is Good Kitchen, Sue – The View from Great Island, Barbara – Movable Feasts, Kathleen – Gonna Want Seconds, Amy – Beloved Green, Linda –  Ciao Chow Linda, Linda A – There and Back Again Martha – Lines from Linderhof, Nancy – Picadillo, Mireya – My Healthy Eating Habits, Veronica – My Catholic Kitchen, Annie – Most Lovely Things